Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Policy Analysis and Political Sustainability

May 13, 2020

In May 2020, Eric Patashnik co-wrote "Policy Analysis and Political Sustainability" with R. Kent Weaver. This piece focuses on a “checklist” of potential sources, risk factors, and warning signs for potential challenges to political sustainability and applies this analysis to the case of the Affordable Care Act.


When policy analysts evaluate policy options, they usually apply criteria such as cost-effectiveness and equity. To the extent politics is considered, it is usually only to assess the feasibility of policy adoption. Policy analysts rarely consider whether policies are likely to build supportive constituencies or stimulate increasing returns after their enactment. As a result, analysts may fail to consider whether policy alternatives are not only likely to gain the votes needed for passage, but whether they will become durable over time. Drawing on the case of the Affordable Care Act, we argue that policy analysts should consider whether policies are likely to generate self-reinforcing or self-undermining feedback, and offer suggestions for how to incorporate political sustainability concerns into policy evaluation and design.